If you’re speaking French and talking about Citroen’s range the answer would be the all-new third generation C3 subcompact, which is now adopting the latest cues of the brand’s new corporate image.
If we were to discuss the broad range – the one available in Europe, not the extended one that still encompasses models such as the flagship C6 in China, then Citroen would be tops when searching for the freshest image in the automotive industry. Just look at what they are doing right now and the models that will come out – they have the C4 Cactus as their new marque ambassador, the C3 following its roots, as well as new entries such as the upcoming new generation C3 Picasso (set to become a crossover instead of MPV) or their new European flagship – the recently teased C5 Aircross SUV. No one can mistake the Citroen models for any other brand anymore – as it was the case some years ago when the company was on the brink of extinction. Start with the C1 – the quirkiest of the three-model family represented with the Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo. Then we have the new C3, followed by the C4 Cactus and C4 Picasso. All of them stand out in any crowd – and the only representative that is not befitting this new-found quirkiness is the regular C4 compact. And in return – anyone considering one when searching for a compact hatchback anymore? PSA Peugeot Citroen is a stellar example as of late on how to bring back to life a company that was almost bankrupt just a few years ago. No longer looking to save itself, the group has also become the second largest in Europe following the recent acquisition of Opel/Vauxhall – its partner on major projects for some time now – from General Motors.
Many of the automotive specialists out there are now wondering how will PSA deal with the brand positioning in this new state – where Peugeot, Citroen and Opel are rival brands across many crucial and popular segments. We’re not here to discuss exactly that, but as far as I’m concerned, the problem isn’t going to be with Citroen – rather with Peugeot and Opel. This is because Citroen is finding its own route in the automotive industry – one that hearkens back to the days of historic and legendary models such as the 2CV or the Mehari. While not as extensive as executives might want, the Citroen brand is very well positioned in Europe now. They are choosing a stand-out design triggered by the incredible success they had with the C4 Cactus. We may liken this to the equally audacious move by Nissan to introduce back in 2010 the Juke subcompact crossover. The C4 Cactus proved so successful that it actually triggered a new design philosophy for the brand and made it believe it can be commercially successful with an interesting and youthful strategy.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
They are trickling down the idea now towards the subcompact segment – in the new C3, which has perks that directly show you the kind of audience it looks for: young, connected individuals (the ConnectedCam is the direct hint). The other direct hint is the wide range of personalization options – 36 alone for the exterior, thanks to the three hue options for the roofline and the palette of exterior colors. So, it’s clear the new C3 has a specific target, as far as the exterior design is concerned – with the added twist that it can also appeal to the people who like the C4 Cactus but feel the need for a smaller, more urban savvy vehicle. It all comes down to one aspect – the C3 keeps the polarizing design of the C4 Cactus, meaning you either love it or rapidly discard it for not being your style. As it turned out, the ones who loved the Cactus were seriously outnumbering the rest, so Citroen was quick to move in this direction. Compare the two models and you’ll clearly see the close design relationship. Up front the C3 simply scales down the traits found in the C4 Cactus – the three-layer headlight assembly (LED daylight running, headlights and fog lights) and the grille and bumper design. The changes are subtle but noticeable, fortunately – so you won’t mistake the one for the other easily. For example the fog light housings can get a touch of color on the dual-tone models, while the double chevron gets its own strip of engine grille unlike on the C4 Cactus where it’s directly placed on metal. The crossover vibe is less visible as the headlights don’t get a plastic mold surround – but you can see the C3 has also observed the competition’s trials in the area. The plastic protection detailing on the front and back bumpers as well as the wheel arches has a direct link with the C4 Cactus and also positions the C3 as a contender in the very small niche of subcompact semi-crossovers, which was represented by models such as the Dacia Sandero Stepway, the VW CrossPolo and now also includes the Ford Fiesta Active.
We are getting now the feeling that due to popular demand everything is rugged and active – as well as ready to hit the urban jungle with its pots, tall sidewalks and other dangers that require things like the Airbumps. Yep, the interesting plastic side protection is directly taken from the C4 Cactus to protect the doors from pesky traffic incidents at low speeds or in car parks. The one area where the C3 doesn’t seem directly inspired by the C4 Cactus is the back – where you get regular hatchback lines – though the taillights do seem a direct design evolution of the ones present on the compact crossover. We’re willing to bet the upcoming C3 Picasso – developed on a platform shared with the all-new Opel Crossland X is willing to take the family resemblance even further, and we decidedly hope they will bring some original elements as well. Until then, the C3 is for sure one of the most striking entries in the popular and dearly fought subcompact segment – where it has to go against epic best-seller such as the Renault Clio, Ford Fiesta, Opel Corsa or Volkswagen Polo. The one deciding factor for the C3 might be the ample list of personalization possibilities – which allow one to stand out even more in the crowd than with a classic configuration. Moving inside, the same positive aspects can be seen – there are no less than four “themes” for the habitable area, varying from a sober – German – look to a colorful appearance all over. The test car was equipped with the optional “Urban” theme, adding a light touch of color that matched the hue on the roofline – in this case red.
While the interior is again showing its connection with the C4 Cactus, this time around we see how the student outdone its master – with the C3 taking care of some of the issues encountered in the compact model. Most importantly, the tablet-like instrument cluster that was heavily criticized for its lack of rpm counter or glare protection has disappeared. In its place sits a classic arrangement with a digital display in the middle – nothing fancy, but everything you would expect is also there. Moving on, the central stack lacks the apparent disorder seen on the Cactus – the tablet touchscreen display is positioned below the aerators instead of above and brings a more unified styling with the rest of the dashboard elements. One of the interesting things about the C3 is that it eschews the “cab-forward” treatment seen on so many modern cars – even in higher segments – so there’s lots of room up front. Most obvious, the front passenger seat can be brought up front more than you can imagine and still deliver ample legroom for the occupant. The C3 also comes with a new steering wheel, which is looking better than on the C4, though it now again features the cruise-control command below and not on the column as seen on the Cactus – these changes do impact the ease of use (the screen is placed lower, so you need to move your eyes more, as well) but they also picture an evolved design which we feel should inspire the C4 Cactus facelift in a few years from now. The C3 did get the goodies from its older brother though – specifically the new shape for the front and back seats as well as the front door handles. These are important – we would usually pass them without a second look – because these touches make up the new image Citroen is building for its customers. The door handles seem inspired by the models of old, while the front seats especially have a distinct armchair vibe. The feature an enhanced are for the lower part – as well as overall updated comfort. Just like in the C4, the seats are one of the elements that set the C3 apart in this very crowded and fiersome segment.
As far as the back bench is considered, this one comes with a couch-feel, and you’ll easily understand the C3 is by no means an adept of quick driving – instead it invites towards comfort and relaxation. The living space resides in a 3,99 meters long subcompact car – a quirkiness in its own after most of its competitors (with one notable exception – the Polo) have long passed the 4-meter threshold. Just to make an idea, the Renault Clio is 4,06 meters long, the Dacia Sandero Stepway hits 4,09 m, the Polo comes in at 3,97 m and the Kia Rio is 4.06 meters long. This doesn’t negatively affect the living space for both front and back passengers because of the clever use of the seat positioning and the lack of cab-forward architecture. So, two adults up front and two in the back will have room for comfortable journeys, alongside 300 liters of available space for luggage (300 l for the Clio, 320 l for the Sandero Stepway, 280 l for the Polo and 325 l for the Rio). Being a subcompact car carries some inherent issues when you’re using it as a family hauler – for example the rear bench is positioned behind the C Pillar and you’ll have issues using a child seat if it’s of the older model, without Isofix. The C3 might not be the perfect car for a family – having a single kid solves the issue though, just put the seat in the most secure location, the middle of the rear bench. But it’s certainly a young person’s companion – the lively interior and the use of an up to date infotainment system, as well as the Connected Cam are direct proof.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
While the exterior and interior design are definitely something else, the powertrain seems to have been snatched from a different scenario – the Citroen brand is considered the affordable arm of the group and this is obvious in the powerplant choices. For example, the entry-level C3 uses the tested 1.2 liter in a meager 68 horsepower configuration that would shame anyone using it. We weren’t far away with the intermediate version sporting 82 hp, but at least it felt livelier. There’s nothing off-beat here though – a 1.2 liter 82 hp three cylinder that sounds like one and acts like one, hooked to a five-speed manual gearbox. If you want to live up to the status imposed by the appearance, you need to go for the 110 hp version (also featuring an useful perk, start/stop technology) or the very efficient BlueHDi with 100 hp. There’s even the option for an automatic transmission, which upgrades you to six forward velocities, if you’re willing to pay the premium. The 1.2 PureTech invites towards relaxation – it’s not eager to rev, and cruising is just fine in the lower rpm threshold. The steering wheel is extremely light – the new C3 retains its soft spot for the female part of the audience. And the gearbox won’t make a racing fan happy – it has flappy gear shifts. All in all, get your mind into comfort zone and you can easily live well with the C3 – it will be silent and relaxing to use in urban areas and well equipped to handle cross-town driving. Just don’t expect it to love the highway speeds where the three cylinder and the five-speed gearbox show their limitations. Nor expect it to become a hot hatch bomb on a mountain pass – you’ll just end up making the passengers feel drowsy. Fortunately, safety is well handled – we have Lane Departure Warning, Blind-Spot Monitoring and even Driver Attention Alert – as well as the proprietary Citroen Connect Box with SOS and Assistance Pack.
In its segment, the 1.2 PureTech 82 hp version doesn’t have many direct competitors – for example the equally naturally-aspirated but four cylinder Clio 1.2 has 75 horsepower, the Dacia Sandero Stepway can only be had with the 0.9 Tce 90 horsepower and the Polo with a one-liter three cylinder also makes a smaller 75 horsepower. In our selection we did encounter a direct, spot on competitor – the Kia Rio 1.2 CVVT which has 1.2 liters and 84 horsepower, but also an added cylinder. The difference between three and four cylinders is small – the latter has the advantage of a rounder action and will be less harsh in terms of noise and vibration. The C3 was soundproof rather well for its class – these aspects were certainly easy to spot when passing small potholes in terms of noises from the suspension. But when you needed all 82 hp and 118 Nm you had to rev the small machine below the hood to levels that were uncomfortable in terms of NVH. No sportiness needed here – but passing on local roads requires a bit of preparation and the use of a lower gear, so it’s impossible not to encounter this scenario. The C3 is another great departure from the Citroen cars of old in terms of suspension comfort though – just like on the C4 Cactus the car is now lighter than before and the suspension works better, it’s silent and comfortable. We also hope it’s more durable, considering the old Citroen’s reputation of not being that solid. Anyways, the performance credentials put the C3 in the middle of the pack – as per is number of ponies. It will reach 168 km/h and the first 100 km/h (62 mph) will be handled in 13 seconds – better than the Clio’s 167 km/h and 14.5 seconds or Volkswagen’s 173 km/h and 14.3 seconds. But it will not stand a fight against the Sandero Stepway’s 168 km/h and 11.1 seconds or Rio’s almost on par credentials: 170 km/h and 12.9 seconds. As far as fuel consumption is concerned, if it had a stop/start system it would fare way better, considering the C3 is a well versed urban dweller. Instead it gets an average of 4.7 liters per 100 km – to Clio’s 5.6 l, Sandero’s 5.1, Polo’s 4.8 l and Rio’s 4.8 liters. No chance to achieve that figure due to urban traffic and the highway limitations – the required speeds can be achieved, but with negative effects on the fuel economy.
Pro: Styling and personalization options, you need no further address if you want to stand out in the subcompact segment. Interior space and trunk capacity in respect to the overall dimensions. Level of comfort when using both the front and back seats as well as the level of comfort exhibited overall, during driving.
Against: Outdated technology for the gasoline powertrain unless you choose the top version. The infotainment system needs some time to get used to, it’s also not the most responsive or even that fast when trying to input a command. The very light steering is giving no driver feedback.
Starting Price – Citroen C3 1.2 PureTech 68 Live – 9,600 EUR
Tested Version – Citroen C3 1.2 PureTech 82 Shine – 12,200 EUR
Engine: 1.2L three cylinder, gasoline (1199 cc)
Power: 82 HP (60 kW) / 5750 rpm
Torque: 118 Nm / 2750
Transmission: 5 speed manual
Dimensions: length – 3,996 mm, width – 1,749mm, height – 1,474 mm, wheelbase – 2,540 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 45L
Trunk Capacity: 300/ 922 liters
0 – 100 km/h: 13 s
Top Speed: 168 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 5,7L/100 km, highway – 4,1L/100 km, average –4,7L/100 km
Rating: 3.4 / 5